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"Japanese Tactics on Guadalcanal" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following report on WWII Japanese tactics on Guadalcanal appeared in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 21, March 25, 1943.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


The following miscellaneous observations on Japanese tactics on Guadalcanal were made by a U.S. Marine colonel, commander of one of the Marine regiments.

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The Jap has been taught that he is invincible. He is accustomed to having the enemy run when Japanese elements get around their enemy's flanks and rear. He is also accustomed to the enemy running when he charges with the bayonet. In his night attacks, he expects the enemy to be caught in front of or on the tactical objective (always an identifiable terrain or other feature) and to be defeated; thus, the mission of his night operations is accomplished.

Consequently he has been upset, confused, and defeated by American troops who do not run, who themselves charge with the bayonet, and who are not where they are expected to be in night attacks--instead, they counterattack when the Japanese are confused and in process of reorganizing after having reached their night-attack objective.

In night attacks the Japanese would send advance parties by the valleys through the denser cover, reserving the more open terrain of the higher ground for the main body and main effort. They would have the main body make considerable noise in order to drown out any noise the advance parties might make. The Jap has had the advance parties clear away jungle growth along avenues of subsequent approach for larger units, and has "blazed" the trails thus cleared with luminous paint. The Jap moves his main forces up in closed-up columns--partly for reasons of command control.

For purposes of control and orientation, Japanese night attacks followed clearly defined terrain features, e.g., a crest ridge-line or a stream. The Japanese selected night-attack objectives from observation of our dispositions at sunset. If he later fails to find these dispositions where he expects them, he becomes confused in the dark and does not know where to look for us. It would take him an hour or two to get reorganized, and that was the time to counterattack him. Heavy casualties were inflicted on him then.

On Tulagi, the Jap took up his positions on the reverse slopes. This gave him better visibility up against the crests and sky, and permitted intense surprise fire of devastating effect at short ranges. However, when he counterattacked at night out of these positions, he suffered so many casualties that he did not have men enough to hold his reverse-slope positions the next day.

The Japanese machine-gun dugouts were held in strengths of 10 to 12 men. When one man was killed, another stepped up and manned the gun. This required every man to be killed, and so the positions held out for hours. Immediately after the Jap discovers a machine gun, he will send over mortar bombs, usually within 10 minutes. The Jap digs in wherever he stops. In a few minutes he will have a slit trench, and in 20 minutes a man-deep foxhole.


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